The lady exited the staff room with a clipboard tucked under her arm and took her seat, just in time for the little ones to get into the water.
I nudged the poolside mom next to me, “What’s that all about?” I asked.
“I think they’re being assessed,” she replied.
My stomach nose-dived like that of an unsuspecting school kid facing an impromptu test. My three-year-old was about to be graded for the very first time, and I (her mom) was totally unprepared. There’d been no opportunity for a pre-swim huddle, the discussion of tactics or, failing everything else, the negotiation of bribes.
Though she swims like a giddy tadpole when alone with us, in the past few lessons she’d been timid to the part of non-participation. Unfortunately, this particular lesson followed suit and I spent the next 20 minutes wincing as she politely (“no, thank you”) declined to try the majority of what the teacher asked of the group.
Top marks for manners, I consoled, but no gold swimming stars.
But why did passing her swimming lesson really matter to me? If she truly wasn’t ready for the next rung on the swimming lesson ladder, then surely it was only fair, important even, that she remain at that level until the time was right.
Not passing could actually be a valuable opportunity for us both to learn about the importance of set-backs in the path to success.
But it did matter. I wanted be throwing awkward British high fives to my little girl (have you ever high-fived a Brit? Try it. We’re rubbish!); pinning her certificate to the fridge and talking excitedly about graduating to a “sea turtle.”
I left the pool that day feeling an Eeyore kind of glum.
One week later, on the morning of her final lesson, I went all college football coach on the poor thing over Cheerios at the breakfast table, discussing the importance of trying what her swim teacher asks and doing your best. And, though I should probably whisper this, I may or may not have also snuck in a sly bribe of something on the sweet-side for good effort.
As we arrived, I nervously took my seat by the pool, ready to fulfill my own role that morning of completely embarrassing parent throwing out large, over-inflated, arm-waving, fist-pumping gestures of support alongside the other calm, non-gesticulating poolside parents.
And perhaps it was down to the pre-lesson prep, my whoops of encouragement, or knowing that a very large piece of chocolate was waiting in her change bag for afterwards, but this lesson was a complete turnaround.
And, to my delight, the clipboard lady had returned and was smiling as she made notes.
So much better than that though was watching my eldest gradually shake off her usual class nerves and try everything asked of her.
At this point, the pass or fail no longer mattered. She could repeat the class 20 times and I’d still be bubbling over with pride because she truly had tried her best.
And then I realized that this lesson had been about more than just swimming; it was a lesson in life – for us both. Yes, the certificate is great. It’s on my fridge. I love it. But that’s not what really matters. There was a journey to be had. Trying new things, whether in or out of the pool, can sometimes be a little bit scary (even though others may not find them scary at all), but there’s pride to be had in giving things a go. And that’s worth a thousand certificates and gold stars.
If only I could apply that psychology to myself!